If the Washington Nationals are indeed serious about keeping their slim playoff hopes alive they need to seize upon the blunders of their opponents. The notion may seem like a simple one but the Nationals had failed to do so in losing three of their previous four games to struggling division foes. On Tuesday night they finally seemed to grasp the concept but not without making plenty of their own mistakes in a sloppy 9-6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.

“One of the uglier ones I’ve seen” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “. . . That’s not the way you win pennants”

The Nationals remained 71/ 2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the hunt for the second National League wild-card bid but their uneven play inspires little confidence of a last-gasp playoff run with 24 games remaining. Starter Gio Gonzalez couldn’t get out of the sixth inning. Bryce Harper forgot the number of outs in the eighth and three Nationals errors contributed to four unearned runs. The Nationals used five pitchers and threw 167 pitches 100 for strikes. The game featured 13 walks five wild pitches one balk and four errors in total.

“We were a young team last year and we were in a pennant race and we handled it all right” Johnson said. “But we still aren’t out of it. We’re just not handling things as individuals. We have a few cracks in the dam. I need to plug ’em. I’m running out of fingers.”

The Nationals built a five-run lead by the top of the sixth inning by capitalizing on the Phillies’ mistakes. With Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche on base Wilson Ramos hammered a three-run homer in the second inning. In the fifth the Phillies handed the Nationals a pair of runs on consecutive bases-loaded walks. The Nationals even scored a late run on a strikeout. Wackiness abounded.

The Nationals took a 7-2 lead in the sixth with run-scoring hits from Werth and Ian Desmond. At the center of both rallies was Denard Span who extended his hitting streak to 16 games and raised his average to .278 with three hits on the night.

Gonzalez wouldn’t make it out of the bottom of the inning.

Staked to a 3-0 lead Gonzalez let the Phillies back in the game in the fourth when Cody Asche followed an error and wild pitch with a two-run single to cut the margin to 3-2. While Gonzalez didn’t make it any easier on himself with three walks and two wild pitches over 52 / 3 innings only one of the five runs he allowed was charged to him because of miscues and three errors behind him.